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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice.

Wagner, David. (1997).
Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


ISBN:0-8133-2569-2 paperback
0-8133-2568-4 hardcover
Description: Paperback, x + 226 pages.

Contents: 7 chapters, chapter notes, about the book and author, index.

Excerpt(s): Temperance movements generally take the form either of voluntary purification rituals or coercive moral-indignation movements. That is, either they aim at improving the self or perhaps those nearest the self, or they seek enforcement of temperant norms over rule violators through the power of either group pressure or state action.

1.Many temperance movement are modern secular forms of confession and purification rituals in which individuals overcome various personal problems through collective acts of redemption based on their admission of sin (alcoholism, overeating, smoking, taking drugs, etc.). Such strategies also provide respectability and integration for individuals and groups that might otherwise be charged with defilement.

It may seem odd that Americans, in large numbers, are confessing in self-help groups, in magazine and news articles, and on television talk shows to a wide variety of sins and transgressions (drug use, eating disorders, sexual deviancy, dysfunctional families, etc.). But the current period differs from the past only in the secularization of such rituals. The power of confession as a bond of solidarity and redemption was first developed by Christianity and has had a place in America since its earliest days. Social control in Puritanical New England, for example, was primarily tied not to punishment but to religious confession and penance. (page 60)

The earliest American temperance movements (in the 1820s-1840s) coincided with the Second Great Awakening of Protestant revivalism in American, and the later surge coincided with the new Social Gospel in Protestant revivalism. Yet the weakness of these movements throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries hinged on their religious association with Protestantism (thus partly explained why most Catholics and Jews opposed the temperance movements). What eventually occurred in America was the diffusion of a power strategy (in Foucaldian terms) from religious ritual to secular movement. (page 60)

The secularization and popularity of confession and ritual purification in the post-1960s period may represent a generational and social class response to the "60s" political and cultural unrest in which baby boomers (in particular) have come to repent for the excesses of youth, whether sexual, consumptive, or political. As the model diffused throughout society, it became available to a variety of age and class groups that could then attempt to gain power and respectability (although the poor and people of color are still least entranced with it).

2. A more coercive form of temperance attempts to demand of others some behavioral change or to exclude others on the basis of their behavior. As a movement of indignation it carries forward both an evangelical tradition and a populist attack on elites. Accusations of sin are also a power strategy that often derives from victimhood. By focusing on others sins, victims derive power that they might lack in the absence of such claims. (page 61)

Evangelical approaches seek to give the uninitiated the word of God, and to teach them ways of purifying themselves and correcting their behavior. Yet individuals' failure to accept the "light" may also bring calls for coercive action. In today's society, many movements still follow religious leaders who advocate behavior change (witness the tremendous success of Christian fundamentalists in organizing since the 1970s). Other behavioral change movements have become more secular, led by claimsmakers from politics (anti-drug and anti-crime movements), from health and medicine (anti-smoking and anti-teen pregnancy campaigns), and from social service organizations (campaigns against child abuse, rape, and domestic violence). (page 62)

Drugs, then may have nothing in common with one another, except for our beliefs about them what Gerald Klerman calls Americans' "pharmacological Calvinism." Klerman points out that in America, if a drug makes you feel good, it must be morally bad, since it violates theological views of salvation through "good works" rather than through pleasure. Hence, he argues, many Americans resent even the use of medications to treat depressed or otherwise troubled psychiatric patients rather than having them work out their problems through therapy or some other form of secular redemption. Substances that originate in the natural world (marijuana, tobacco, opium poppies) could be grouped with foods, such as coffee and chocolate (both of which are extracted from plants). And chemically produced substances such as LSD and Prozac, as well as over-the-counter medications, could be grouped together. It is only our political, strategic construction that unites these very diverse drugs.

We Americans subscribe not only to "pharmacological Calvinism" but also to what C. Reinarman and his associates have called a pharmo-economic determinism." That is, we seem to believe, or have been led to believe, that all users of substances turn into "addicts." Casual use is often equated with long-term use, whereas addiction is assumed to occur despite evidence that even the most demonized drugs are not physically habit forming. (page 76)

Most Americans, particularly office holders and voters, consider themselves to be religious. And regardless of whether they attend church or other religious services, they take the Ten Commandments seriously (even if they violate some in practice). The strong cultural traditions of Puritanism, combined with the natural reluctance of most citizens to organize on the basis of "immoral" behavior (e.g., use of drugs or pornography), have focused the political debate on an idealized Judeo-Christian ethic. On the one hand, office holders, their campaign funders, and organized citizen groups are likely to react strongly to attacks against the nuclear family, monogamy, biblical teaching, and other cultural pillars of society. On the other hand, even when millions of citizens take drugs (as they did during the 1960s and 1970s) or engage in illicit sexual relations, not only are they reluctant to admit it, but they are rarely mobilized to vote on that basis. (page 136)

It is important to note that the Right (quite intentionally) froze its view of the Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Well into the 1990s, many spokespeople on the Right treated activists on the Left as if they were still rebellious anarchists, intent on undermining Western civilization by urging an end to the family, the church, and the state. According to Jerry Falwell, for example, the Left was promoting "free use of pornography, legalizing prostitution and gambling, and free use of drugs." This characterization is amusing because it came at a time when many leftist activists were opposing drugs and pornography, whereas few leftists were expressing any position at all on prostitution or gambling. (page 143)

Richard Viguerie, the New Right s direct-mail wizard, though not a fundamentalist himself, was among the first to realize how a political realignment could occur; he estimated that there we 85 million Americans who could form a "pro-family" coalition: 50 million born-again Christians, 30 million morally conservative Roman Catholics, 3 million Mormons, and 2 million Orthodox Jews. This "vast untapped reservoir" could be tapped if political loyalties were cast around moral issues. Indeed, it appears that political consultants, not Christian Right groups, suggested that Jerry Falwell form a group like the Moral Majority. ...

Yinger and Cutler reported similar results from their survey, finding " intolerance toward antireligious and homosexual writings, opposition to legalized marijuana, abortion, extramarital and homosexual relations, and pornography."

The success of the New Right on issues of sex and moral behavior was based on two factors. One was the ability of the New Right to mobilize evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants who were either nonvoters or had previously voted Democratic, particularly for Jimmy Carter in 1976. Ed Rollins, the Republican pollster, estimates that 10-12 million votes shifted to the Republicans as a result of the rise of the religious Right, a shift "comparable to what the Democrats had gotten from Roman Catholic ethnics in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s." (pages 142-143)



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